BSE testing of healthy cattle over 72 months can be stopped

BSE testing of healthy cattle over 72 months can be stopped

The Food Standards Agency is to advise the UK Government that testing of all healthy cattle aged over 72 months for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) can be stopped, following agreement at an FSA Board meeting this week.

It was agreed that the testing of these healthy cattle was no longer necessary as long as the other existing safety controls continued to be enforced vigilantly.

The existing controls are the ban on feeding animal protein to farmed animals, which prevents the spread of BSE to animals through feed, and the removal of specified risk material (SRM) – the most risky parts of animals – at slaughter, which protects consumers from the risk from food. Testing is also carried out on cattle that die for reasons other than being killed for human consumption. These controls will remain in force.

The decision follows the European Commission’s proposal to allow some member states, including the UK, to decide to stop testing these cattle.

Jeff Rooker, chair of the FSA, said: “The FSA is here to protect the public and, with no new BSE cases in cattle slaughtered for their meat for more than three years, we believe the decision to stop this particular testing requirement is a proportionate measure. However, this is not a green light for the industry to cut corners, so it is imperative the other controls, including the other surveillance measures, are maintained vigilantly.

“If Ministers agree to stop testing in January, the FSA has been asked to produce a report after six months detailing the results of BSE monitoring and the enforcement of the feed and SRM controls to ensure confidence in the continued effectiveness of the BSE controls. Further reports will be published annually.”

NFU Scotland President, Nigel Miller said: “The shadow cast by BSE on the Scottish beef industry is finally lifting and an end to testing of animals entering the food chain is a mark of the commitment our beef sector undertook to eradicate the disease from our animals.

“An end to testing older animals will strip out a significant element of cost from our beef supply chain and may also open up the potential for some of our smaller abattoirs and processors to consider older cattle if the hurdle and cost of testing is lifted.

“The announcement also sends out a clear message to the rest of the world that Scotch beef should be on their menus. The recent reopening of Russian markets to British beef is a breakthrough but concerns over BSE still act as a barrier to accessing Japan. This is an issue on which we wrote to Defra recently and this announcement of an end to testing will give the Japanese and others reassurances on the safety of our product.

“NFUS has always argued that controls must be based on science and is pleased to see that the FSA have followed the science in making this recommendation to the UK Government.

“With such significant moves made under Europe’s TSE roadmap over the past few years, we believe there is scope for further risk-based decisions to be considered.

“SRM removal provides necessary reassurance to consumers on safety but does come at a huge disposal cost to our meat processors. We would want a review to consider whether, given the absence of BSE in our herd, some parts currently viewed as SRM can be declassified on a risk basis.

“While we are rolling back controls on beef, we believe it is also time to consider some of the TSE controls in sheep. We have long argued for an end to the requirement to split older sheep carcasses and remove spinal column material, on the basis that there is no scientific justification behind the practice. Whilst so much focus has been on beef controls to date, surely now it is time to examine the ovine controls.”

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